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Revolutionizing The Waste Industry From The Ground Up

Entrepreneur Podcast Network: An Interview with Frank E. Celli

Eric Dye: You have been a part of the Waste Business for more than 25 years. What gave you the idea for BioHitech America?

Frank E. Celli: I‘ve got a long history in the traditional waste services industry which came to end sometime towards the end of 2006 at which time I had sold the business that I had previously founded and I realized and identified that in the early to mid 2000s the trend toward zero waste and sustainability by our customers was really starting to gain momentum. The waste industry traditionally has been essentially a technology-adverse and transparency-adverse industry. I recognized the need for a disruptive type of business that leveraged emerging technology to provide customers with a better solution for some of the issues that they were having in reaching their own zero waste and sustainability goals and I also saw the need for a solution that would also help them achieve regulatory compliance in areas where the government or government entities were starting to enforce and enact or discuss regulations regarding the diversion of various types of waste from landfills and traditional waste disposal options available at that time. So, I left the traditional industry and I identified an opportunity to leverage emerging technology targeting food waste because it was the most obvious target. When a company was talking about going from 100% waste to zero waste, food representing 30-35% of the total waste that goes to landfills today was just an obvious target. What I realized is that relying on traditional means of collection and disposal for food albeit separate from mixed municipal waste was not going to provide a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution so I entered into the business of on-site organic waste decomposition with the BioHitech Eco-Safe Digester product. I identified the fact that there was a way to provide the consumer with a cost-effective “clean” technology solution that would essentially disrupt the way that waste was being handled on a day-to-day basis.

Eric Dye: I want to personally thank you for seeing that making something happen in that regard. How are business impacted by the food waste challenge here in the United States?

Frank E. Celli: Numerous answers to that question. They are impacted in many ways. First and foremost I will reference new regulatory movements. Laws are being put into effect all over the United States that now mandate certain food waste generators to have to have a diversion plan in place. Whereas in the early 2000s it was somewhat optional. We are now seeing in 2014 and 2015 and I think we will continue to see this trend being mandated and regulated which means businesses are struggling to find a cost-effective solution to diverting waste and being compliant with new laws and regulations being passed. So, there is somewhat of a legal aspect to this. The other issue whether it is mandated or its discretionary, the cost associated with disposing of food waste is pretty substantial. So how do businesses that generate food waste and want to either achieve regulatory compliance or their own self-imposed sustainability goals, how do they do this in a cost-effective fashion without a material impact to their P&Ls. So, cost is certainly a factor, regulatory compliance is a challenge, the biggest challenge associated with both of these is the lack of options in the market today for generators of food waste to find a cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly means of disposing of the waste. So there are various challenges. The one we like to focus on at BioHitech is not often discussed, and that is the focus on food waste prevention. The focus has traditionally been on food waste diversion, how do we dispose of food waste in a more environmentally-friendly fashion and cost-effectively, well the fact of the matter is the right answer to that problem is Don’t Generate the Food Waste at All. So, we at BioHitech look at the challenge slightly differently than how both our customers and competitors do which is accumulating the data and information needed to prevent the generation of that food waste to start. There lies the bigger issue. From there, what’s left will certainly be a challenge but providing our customers with the right information that ultimately really solves the problem which is to not generate that waste at all. Various problems, various challenges, some are obvious some are not.

Eric Dye: What alternatives to traditional waste removal and landfills are available for a company to dispose of food waste?

Frank E. Celli: That’s a great question and a problem. Traditionally composting has been the go to means of disposing of organic waste when desired. Now, the fact of the matter is, as regulations continue to be passed and corporate initiatives continue to be implemented the volume of food waste that will be generated is obviously going to grow. The number of compost facilities is not growing, in fact it’s shrinking, and the cost and the environmental impact of these traditional facilities are challenges as well. There is still traditional composting still available albeit it is expensive and in our opinion not the cleanest option available. Anaerobic Digestion, which is essentially the digestion of food waste in the absence of oxygen where food waste, is used as a feedstock to create gas that is ultimately used to generate electricity. This is a great solution and is widely deployed across Europe and the rest of the world however the problem in the US is there are very few Anaerobic Digesters, they certainly do not have proximity to the metropolitan areas where the bulk of food waste is being generated. While it is a great technology and a fantastic option it too has its challenges with citing new facilities, proximity to the waste and because of that logistical challenges and costs associated with collecting the waste from the generators and transporting it to its final point of digestion could be as much or more than 200 miles away from the source of the waste. Certainly a viable technology that the US will see the development and deployment of in the future. There are on-site digesters, such as our Eco-Safe Digester where the waste can be treated at the point of generation that we believe is always the best option, as it requires the least amount of logistical efforts to dispose of it. This type of technology provides typically a cost-effective means to the customer to meet their regulatory goals and self imposed sustainability goals. There are other emerging technologies that we are beginning to see on the market and I believe we will continue to see on the market where food waste may be able to be converted into fertilizer or other products so the key here is it’s certainly technology that will be the key to success in the overall diversion of food waste. I do not believe that relying on traditional means of disposal is where the future lies for this industry.

Eric Dye: How does the BioHitech solution differ from the other solutions and who can benefit?

Frank E. Celli: Anyone can benefit that generates food waste in excess of approximately 200 pounds a day. So, our customers are typically made up of supermarkets, retail restaurants, hospitality facilities, universities, prisons, hospitals, any large generator of food waste where either food is being sold to or supplied to or being prepared for large quantities of people. There are multiple benefits of our technology. The first and foremost is the providing data, real data, accurate data, in real time to our customers, is really the key to success. The fact that we measure each increment of food waste that is introduced into our digesters in real time and the transmission of that data, every 10 seconds, to our cloud software, we provide the only source of accurate and real time waste data to our customers in order for them to analyze how much waste is really being generated, where it comes from and then ask why it is being generated, ultimately with the goal of educating our consumers so they can actually reduce the food waste they are generating as opposed to focusing on a better way of disposing it. Real-time data, transparency of the waste, and analytics are clearly the key advantages of our product. Secondly, our product is on-site. What that means is we treat the waste at the point of generation, we require the least amount of logistical effort to handle the waste to transport it from the point of its generation to the point of its ultimate disposal. What that means is that we not only save the customer money we reduce their environmental footprint. What we suggesting is that every time that waste needs to be transported via inefficient vehicles it would have a negative environmental impact. Dealing with waste disposal on-site is always going to be the most effective both for the customer’s budget and the environment. Real-time waste data will enhance our customer’s businesses to become more productive and efficient. And the other nice thing about our technology is that it does not have to be an end all in the sense that in considering other emerging technologies, such as Anaerobic Digestion, our units can be used as a pre-processing unit to create pure feedstock for their process. The pre-processing reduces the volume needing to be transported by 90% because only 10% of the food waste has energy value. The pre-processing essentially reduces the logistical costs and further shrinks a customer’s environmental footprint. We believe our product has enormous advantages over any other option available today. We also know that our customers love to hear that we can offer our product to them at a cost considerably less than what their current disposal costs are. What we are providing them is a cleaner solution at a lower cost than typical services provided which is not normally seen in a green technology investment.

Eric Dye: In terms of growth, what do you see as the next steps for BioHitech America?

Frank E. Celli: One of the key areas for our growth is global expansion. We are the global distributor of the Eco-Safe Digester and believe the international market can be equally as large, possibly even larger than the US market. Global expansion of our product and the waste analytics is definitely a key area for growth. It is something we focus on everyday. We currently have strategic partnerships with groups in Europe, Mexico, Latin America and the Middle East. We have had a fair amount of success in the deployment of our technology into those international markets in many cases because they do not have as many options for disposal of waste as we do in the US mainly being driven by population density. So these international markets are adapting quicker to our type of technology than the US. The continued development of our analytical tools to decipher and present the information to our customers in a useable and easy fashion in order for them to make management decisions that can affect things other than waste disposal. The continual improvements to our data package to our customers we continue to spend time and money on. Interfacing with some of our customers’ other systems, like POS, is something that we are working on as well. Taking the data that we collect from the back of the house and marrying that data with the front of the house can provide a very powerful management tool to our customers to improve their processes and make them more efficient. Because of that our sales chain changes dramatically. We are now selling upstream to CMOs, CFOs and CEOs so the continual development of the data is key to our growth. Lastly, we have received many requests from customers using our data and cloud technology to implement the same technology on other devices. Taking our machine-to-machine communication product and deploying that tool on other pieces of waste equipment to further disrupt the way customers do business on a day-to-day basis regarding their recyclables or mixed municipal waste is an area of growth we are very interested in pursuing. Our business vision is all about providing transparency and providing our customers with the tool to be more efficient all around. The key to profitability and efficiency is having access to real information that can be used quickly to make changes within a company. We have a lot of growth potential over the next couple of years and are very excited to see what the future holds.

Eric Dye: In conclusion any final thoughts?

Frank E. Celli: The key to understanding and really making a difference is not focusing on How do we dispose of waste and doing it because that is How it has been done the past 50 years but to embrace emerging technology and be OK in the decision to disrupt a process that does a better job in learning how to not create the waste in the first place and to do a better job at disposing of what’s left. If we are looking for a sustainable world data, information is the key to driving a clean and green environment. The misconception that a green solution costs more money is not necessarily true if all of the technologies are evaluated correctly and used potentially in conjunction with each other.
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